One word characterises our reaction to the virus. ‘Recoil’ seems appropriate, but not so much a ‘moving away’, rather a ‘contraction’ into ourselves. That might explain why the bluster of politicians seems so absurd. They can no longer convincingly puff themselves up with self-importance. The emptiness of their discourse is laid bare. Much is abandoned in that ‘contraction’, stripping away the trappings of consumerism, making us acutely aware of the essentials of life, both missed and rediscovered. In the recoil there is evident fear, justifiably so faced with an invisible threat, but there is also a delicate richness that needs to be savoured and treasured.
This week saw the return of younger children to school. A particular event in the village as the new school buildings are opening for the first time. It was strange to see children hugging and wrestling and running in every direction apparently without the slightest care in the world. As I battled with annoyance at their joyful lack of concern, I quickly realised I was jealous. Amongst others released from lockdown are the local pot-shooters who have been making a nuisance of themselves shooting hundreds of clay pigeons at the local firing range. Makes you appreciate the peace and quiet of lockdown. News from the States reveals that those raucous meetings of gun-carrying demonstrators clamouring for the freedom to break out of the lockdown were in fact responsible for further spreading the disease in a country that can boast the worst death toll in the world.
Covid19 continues to fill the news. A number of news items are important like the progress of the illness or the restrictions placed on the population. Occasionally, those bearing witness bring home the gravity of the situation. Like that woman talking about her husband who’d been rushed to hospital and who was battling with death. Or reports that underscore the key role of hitherto undervalued and underpaid actors like health workers. But much of what is broadcast, especially as the lockdown draws out, is empty. The interminable ministerial press conferences with the ballet of statistics, unseen graphs as proof, during which instructions and key information give way to carefully-crafted slogans if not disinformation. A large part of news broadcasts is speculation. What are the government going to do? How is the economic crisis going to work out? How will people react to easing the lockdown? Or critical, rightly or wrongly pointing to incoherences in strategy, revealing failings in government responses. Reports from local sources or abroad are often anecdotal, delivering impressions rather than analysis. Then there’s the advice given on what to do during lockdown to stave off boredom. It’s as if this media effervescence were trying to fill the airways so as to keep people’s attention on the pandemic. Faced with this obsession, some react with anxiety and despondency, others harbour doubts and there are those who get angry… but I can’t help wondering if harping on the pandemic is not in itself bad for people’s health.
As we move to easing lockdown, the ‘new normal’ is increasingly a subject of debate. For example, on BBC Radio 4 a former Tory education minister talked about the undeniable advantages of returning to face-to-face teaching with the teacher in front of the class. But is that where we should go? Shouldn’t we be moving away from frontal delivery of information? This crisis offers a unique opportunity to reconsider the way we do things. However, resetting activities might not imply returning to where we were before, but rather looking for a new starting point. Those who press for a ‘return to normal’ seek to suppress any questioning of the way things were. Far from the normal, the American President’s minders temporarily managed to prevent him organising daily briefings on the virus after he encouraged people to try injecting bleach in their veins. On a personal level, the progressive easing of the lockdown, with an increase in the number of cars and a distinct rise in agitation, leaves me regretting the calm. The quiet, the relative lack of stress, the joyful singing of the birds, the absence of planes in the sky,… Could my reaction be due to my age? Or is there a more general thirst for a less stressful, more peaceful and more caring world? A dream of a lost paradise?
Amid complaints from small shop-keepers about being unfairly treated, the Federal Council has back-pedalled on the earlier opening of large stores, limiting them to the food section. The weather continues dry and relatively warm, starving farmers and their crops of much needed rain. Instead we have swarms of tiny insects. Talking about swarms, there’s growing debate about what comes after the lockdown, with the forces for the status quo clamouring for a rapid return to ‘business as usual’. Understandably, those who’ve lost homes and livelihood want out of the crisis. Yet their vulnerability, their marginalisation, stems from the ‘business as usual’ that pre-dates the crisis. A return to normal will ultimately only favour those who were already heavily favoured before the crisis. Not surprising then that they are amongst the most fervent supporters of a rapid return to ‘normal’, worried, no doubt, that a prolonged exposure to the ‘anormal’ might open people’s eyes to the need for change. Celebrating Earth Day this week, Greta Thunberg, in discussion with Johan Rockström, says, “We have to choose a new way forward.” Margaret Atwood, speaking on the Today programme on Radio 4, points out that the arrow of time moves ever forward and talks of a ‘new normal’. There’s nothing normal about the American President who, this week, encouraged people to drink or inject disinfectant as a cure for CoVid-19. Doctors hastened to insist doing so could be fatal. Another one of nutter Trump’s magic solutions, chloroquine, has proved fatal in high doses in use in a major hospital in the States. How much longer will the American people put up with this dangerous madman?
Postscript: In response to someone who sees our choice as between lockdown and a return to normal and can’t understand why we would hesitate to opt for the latter. It is not possible to devise a satisfactory exit from this crisis if you think in binary terms, opposing lockdown to a ‘return to normal’. It is a choice that offers no choice. Those who think in such terms have a vested interest in keeping things as they were, both those who profit from the status quo and those who enjoy bitching about it. Speaking of aiming for a ‘new normal’ rather than returning to the status quo opens exciting perspectives on the multiple options of a ‘third way’. This crisis offers a unique opportunity to turn to a different path. Let’s not be pressured into squandering it.
This week the Federal Council announced three steps towards lifting the lockdown amid increased grumbling from those still barred from selling their wares. The traditional three-tier governing system in Switzerland (Confederation – Cantons – Communes) has come under strain with Cantons looking to the Federal Council for more precise directives. Meanwhile, people in Switzerland continue to applaud frontline workers every evening at 9pm. The American President incites riots in Democratic held states by encouraging his supporters to rage against the lockdown. At the same time, he continues using his daily Covid-19 briefings to canvas for the coming presidential election instead of informing the country on action taken to control the pandemic. He must have some hell of a bodyguard such is the anger and frustration against him. I wonder how much that costs the taxpayer. Convalescing in the Prime Minister’s country residence, Boris Johnson comes under increasing fire for dithering during the first weeks of the outbreak instead of responding with clear action. A comparison of death rates in Germany and the UK seems to indicate the extent of the UK’s shortcomings. The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden, gets nominated as ‘the most effective leader on the planet’. She has my vote! As for me, apart from my daily walk, discussions with my wife and posting my photos, I continue working on the Boy & Girl Saga, revising the first two books and finishing the new, third one, We Girls Show the Way.
We have reached 100 days of the Corona virus outbreak. This week’s noteworthy victim was British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. I was surprised at the outpouring of sympathy in the UK for the man who was in and out of intensive care within the week. Why surprised? Because the Conservative’s drive for austerity has been responsible for the unpreparedness of both the NHS and the social care system. What’s more, the dithering of the government, Johnson in particular, about how to respond delayed adequate response for a number of weeks no doubt causing many deaths. One moving moment for me this week was hearing the heart-rending interview on the BBC of a woman whose husband caught the virus and who is apparently loosing the fight to survive. This virus is certainly not something to be taken lightly. How does that relate to the story of a chief constable of one region of England who lamented having to break up 160 street parties in his area? I struggle with the question: Why are people so blind? Other sad news this week, the parting of the Swiss film maker Francis Reusser. He was one of my teachers when I attended Fine Arts in Geneva. On a personal note, we are very thankful for the Scouts who once again fetched shopping for us this week.
The Swiss film director, Francis Reusser, has just passed away. He was 78. He had been ill for quite a while. To quote Frédéric Maire, head of the Swiss Cinémathéque, (my translation) “He was, without a doubt, one of the key critical Swiss witnesses of the end of the last century and the beginning of this one, while continuing to grumble, to love filming and to love life.”
I first met Francis at the Fine Arts School in Geneva in the early 80’s. I was what they called a ‘mature’ student. He was one of my teachers and head of a cinema workshop with François Albera. Francis wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. Maybe that’s why we didn’t always see eye to eye. That said, he had the cinema in his blood and he undertook everything with passion as can be seen in these few photos extracted from my Art Notebooks from 1982.
This confusion of branches and fallen trees in an abandoned forest boarded by the lake on one side and a psychiatric clinic on the other seemed eerily evocative of the unruly minds that wander the woods… (click any photo to access the gallery)